APU Health & Fitness Original

How to Get and Stay Motivated to Build a Healthy Lifestyle

The first step to building a healthy lifestyle is figuring out what that term means to you as an individual. It’s a common mistake to think we can copy someone else’s lifestyles or habits and get the same exact results. Instead of trying to live someone else’s lifestyle, it’s important to craft habits that resonate with your own personal “reasons why.”

Therefore, prior to diving into how to get motivated, it’s important to know why you want to achieve a healthy lifestyle in the first place. Once your reasons and potential habits are laid out, it’s time to talk specifically about how to get motivated to pursue the new lifestyle you want to create.

First, let’s define motivation. Being motivated is a state of feeling urged to do something. Being driven or having an incentive to complete a task. You’ve experienced it, and it feels great.

Whether it’s tied to work, choosing nutritious foods at the grocery store or tackling your home project to-do list, feeling driven to complete something makes doing it much more enjoyable. There is less of a barrier to beginning the action because motivation makes you feel like doing the task.

The issue with motivation then is not what it is, but that it is not ever-present. We don’t always feel like doing the tasks that will move the needle towards our goals. How then, if our motivation is lacking, do we consistently work towards our desired outcomes?

Remind Yourself: Motivation Is Not Necessary – It’s Just Nice to Have

It’s time to change the narrative in your head that says you must be motivated in order to accomplish a task. I don’t always feel motivated to attend business meetings, but I do like getting a paycheck, so I’m going to be there whether I feel like it or not.

Of course, it’s nice to feel motivated. I love the workdays when I get “in the zone,” complete tons of tasks, and then look up at the clock and can’t believe how much time has gone by. Those days are great, but they are the exception, not the rule.

So ditch the idea that “being motivated” is a requirement. It’s not necessary; it’s just a nice bonus when it does happen.

Discipline and Action Beget Motivation

While many people think motivation comes first and then action, this way of thinking is backward. Motivation is not a key to action; rather, it is a product of discipline.

When we commit to a healthy lifestyle and are disciplined regardless of how we feel, motivation starts to show up more often. Motivation then is not the fuel behind new habits, but a benefit of living a disciplined lifestyle.

“How do you stay so motivated?” is likely the most often-asked question of fitness professionals. The answer is, “I don’t.” Instead, people who are consistently working towards their goals are disciplined and occasionally are rewarded with the motivation to continue. Usually, this motivation stems from “little wins” that have accumulated over the time by that person consistently taking action.

Stay Disciplined and Revisit Your Reasons and Habits Often

While motivation ebbs and flows, there are some things we can do to improve the chances of feeling motivated. First, as mentioned above, we can stay disciplined. Showing up for yourself and keeping promises to yourself are highly motivating behaviors.

Second, we can often revisit our reasons for choosing a new and healthy lifestyle. In a previous article, “Finding the Drive to Build New Post-Pandemic Healthy Habits,” I discussed writing out the reasons for choosing to pursue new goals and outcomes. In other words, why is it that you want to build a healthy lifestyle?

Revisit these reasons often to keep your lifestyle goals top of mind. This practice will help remind you of the steps you’ve committed to taking as well as empower you to see what your discipline can achieve. And as we just discussed, discipline and consistency will lead to motivation.

Track Your Disciple and Consistency – Don’t Worry about Outcomes

Lastly, consider tracking your discipline and consistency instead of worrying about outcomes. Often, we can get so focused on a specific goal that when it takes time to get there, we get discouraged. Instead of zeroing in on a specific outcome, track your habits and discipline instead.

Rather than making your weekly goal to lose a certain number of pounds, get into your specific identified habits (maybe walking 8,000 steps a day and drinking 64 ounces of water). Regardless of other measured outcomes, if you were disciplined with your habits, you’ll reach your weekly goals.

This practice is very useful in creating motivation because it’s something we have complete control over.  We can make sure to drink enough water each day. And if we don’t, it’s time to evaluate our day and ask, “Why didn’t I?”

At the end of the day remind yourself of this truth: “I don’t have to be motivated to be disciplined.”

While it may be useful to try improving daily motivation, it’s discipline and consistency that actually move the needle forward to reaching a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Adrienne Herrenbruck is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sports & Health Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kentucky and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Her research interests focus on skeletal muscle physiology and she has a passion for discussing the convergence of science and healthy living.

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